Thursday, 13 June 2013

A cracking new book from Bruno Loubet

Salmon, new potatoes, asparagus and a green gazpacho
There hasn't been much serious cooking taking place at the Voluptuous Villa of late: well okay, that’s perhaps a tad misleading.

There hasn’t been much experimentation or complexity: the long-awaited seasonal ingredients just cry out for the simplest possible treatment.

After all, when the asparagus and the Jersey Royals finally arrive, what else do you really want to do other than serve them simply with a lamb chop and some fresh mint sauce?

But a pre-ordered book arrived in my hands last week that demanded an instant change to this approach.

Bruno Loubet’s new book, Mange Tout, was the inspiration. And a delightful and inspirational collection it is.

With a braai having already been scheduled for Saturday – small steaks, pork and apple patties and Toulouse sausage, with bread and a small salad on the side – Sunday was marked down for a touch of Bruno experimentation.

The starting point with Bruno is the south west of France.

Coming from within the Bordeaux region, Loubet is absolutely an omnivore.

The south west of France is, after all, the home of duck confit and foie gras. Vegetarianism is not high in the menu.

Although Bruno’s new restaurant (which I hope to visit in a few weeks, work allowing) gives a much greater prominence to vegetables.

However, back to this book.

It didn’t take much of a browse before I saw dishes that I wanted to try.

Mackerel with salted and compressed watermelon and a lime mayonnaise is one that most certainly will be done, to give but a single example. And then there's lobster with mango – another pairing that you know, instantly, will work superbly. 

But I have already tried two dishes.

First, I tried a dish of salmon confit with asparagus, new potatoes and a green gazpacho.

Now this really is excellent.

Of course, it’s enormously seasonal – and seriously worships the produce.

The salmon is confited in olive oil – and works wonderfully – while the new potatoes and asparagus are cooked as you would expect.

The difference is in the green gazpacho, which includes avocado, spring onion, green pepper, green chilli, olive oil, basil and mint.

You use that as a sauce – and a delightfully fragrant sauce it is too, with just a little bit of a kick.

It is, on the one hand, very simple dish, but on the other, the gazpacho and the way the fish is cooked makes it a very grown-up dish.

You need a cook's thermometer to maintain the temperature of the oil – and my pesky, unsubtle hob made it close to a nightmare to keep the gauge steady at 50-55˚C, but it would be difficult to completely muck this up.

And it has the wonderful advantage of many aspects of it being able to be prepared well in advance, so the final cook is not difficult.

Bruno concludes the recipe by saying that he garnishes with whatever herbs are available: I finely shredded a few leaves of mint and sorrel from the garden, which worked well.

Next up was a rhubarb Clerkenwell mess – which I have actually eaten at Bistrot Bruno Loubet in, well, err, Clerkenwell.

It meant that, since I hadn’t planned well enough in advance to buy pre-made ones, I had to make my own meringue for the first ever time.

I checked Delia first, assuming simplicity and finding instead, mentions of cornflour and vinegar. So I turned to Michel Roux, where I found the simple directions that guided me through my first ever experience of making meringue.

And I managed it – and I admit to having felt really rather chuffed with myself.

The mess is made with meringue, a rhubarb jelly and a rhubarb compote (in effect), and while the compote is really quite sweet, having been cooked very briskly, with plenty of sugar and also orange juice, the addition of pink grapefruit segments keeps the whole thing very nicely balanced.

Now, I’m afraid I can’t actually read the words ‘mange tout’ without thinking of Del Boy’s glorious mis-pronounciation in an effort to impress in Only Fools and Horses.

But if that was about a misplaced belief in one’s own sophistication, this is the real deal.

Bruno’s new book has serious elements of fusion cookery, but they do not seem to be there for the sake of it.

They’re subtle and seriously considered – not just some excuse to combine a random series of ingredients.

On the basis of what I have cooked from the book, the instructions are clear, but do assume a certain knowledge.

Bruno’s food is wonderful – and that’s exactly why I pre-ordered this book some eight months ago, as soon as it was possible to do so.

Never mind me: suffice it to say that Raymond Blanc rates Bruno very highly (I can see why). And if you buy just one cookery book this year, you won’t go far wrong with this one.

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